The Open Payments database needs to improve the accuracy, precision and consistency of some of its data to ensure doctor financial transparency and help consumers better use the information.

That’s the finding of an audit by the Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Inspector General.

Developed by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, the Open Payments website is meant as an online resource to help consumers better understand the financial relationships between physicians and drug and medical device companies. Under the Sunshine Act, the industry is required to report financial interactions with individual physicians to CMS, which the agency makes public through its program.

“The transparency of the Open Payments program reveals the nature and extent of these relationships and has the potential to discourage the development of inappropriate financial relationships,” according to the OIG. “However, the program can benefit the public only if the data reported are complete and accurate.”

Bloomberg/file photo

While nearly all of the 11.9 million records published on the Open Payments website met requirements, according to OIG’s audit, fewer than 1 percent were found to be missing required data elements.

“Although the Open Payments data elements reported to CMS were complete overall, we did identify records that contained inaccurate, imprecise, or inconsistent information,” state the auditors. “These include records containing drug and device names that do not match the definitions of these data elements; national drug codes (NDCs) that were not found in multiple Food and Drug Administration databases or other drug information resources; and payment dates from a different reporting year.”

To address the problem, OIG recommended in its report that CMS take a number of steps to improve the accuracy, precision, and consistency of the data, including:

  • Ensuring that records contain all required data.
  • Strengthening validation rules and revise data-element definitions so that actual drug and device names must be reported.
  • Revising the definition of the device-name data element so that the information reported is required to be more specific.
  • Ensuring that manufacturers and group purchasing organizations report valid NDCs for drugs.

CMS officials were not immediately available for comment regarding the OIG’s findings. However, in the agency’s response to the audit report, CMS concurred with all four of the recommendations to ensure that Open Payments records contain the required data.

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